New Jersey can be magical.
Just a few miles in any direction can make all the difference between urban and rural, rich and poor, new and historic.
There’s also a blessedly thin line between ordinary and unique.
This past weekend, I was in an Atlantic City bar with some photographer friends, when one mentioned that Lucy the Elephant was just three miles to the south.
A short drive later and I was standing in front of the oldest surviving roadside tourist attraction in America: a whimsical six-storey structure built in 1881 by James V. Lafferty, and moved away from the shoreline and restored in 1970 through efforts led by two local Margate City residents.
Despite being a lifelong resident of the Garden State, I had never seen Lucy in real life. So, of course, I took a photo: nothing special, just something out of the ordinary to throw up on social media.
Lucy is surely an elephant to remember, though, because the image produced some out-of-the-ordinary responses:
One stranger wanted to know directions to Lucy. Another commented, “My very close friend’s father moved Lucy back in the ‘70s. Drove her right down Atlantic Avenue! That was a house-lifters dream to move such a legendary piece of history!” Still another stranger commented that her first summer job was as a tour guide at the site.
A friend reminded me that he had a summer house within walking distance from Lucy, if I ever needed to use it. My only sibling, a sister now living in California, added a smiley face with the comment, “Wow, I have not seen Lucy in a very long time!” Before I could reply wondering when she was there when I wasn’t, a high school friend of hers responded, “Remember Lucy? Lol!”
Lucy is “True Jersey,” resonating with people here – and people who remember “here” -- like The Shore.
On my drive back home that evening, just a few miles up the road, I noticed five giant wind turbines with elegant rotors slicing through the air after sunset. So, of course, I pulled to the side of the road and took another photo.
The towering structures appear as if from nowhere… just miles from some of the state’s most densely populated urban areas, or sparsely populated farmlands, or the great expanse of Pine Barrens, where the Jersey Devil roams. This is my home: haunted by the sounds of bar bands on Saturday nights, church bells on Sunday mornings and commuter trains to New York City on Mondays.
Before leaving, I turned back for one last look at the skyline… and saw my name, “Bobby V,” in bright 12-storey lights along the whole western facade of Harrah’s Resort.
How extraordinary, I thought. So, of course, I took another photo.
It’s all a matter of perspective, a little geography, and a home-grown faith in magic.